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The new Czech president: Ukraine deserves to join NATO, the West should not hesitate to send weapons
Czech President-elect Petr Pavel has told the BBC that Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO "as soon as the war is over".
Pavel, a retired NATO general, said Ukraine would be "morally and practically ready" to join the Western alliance once the conflict was over.
Pavel gave a strong defense of Western military support for Kiev, saying there should be "almost no limit" to what countries should send.
He said the delivery of Western fighter jets such as the F-16 was not "taboo" for him, but he was not sure they could be delivered in a time frame that would be useful to Kiev.
US President Joe Biden has ruled out sending F-16s this week, although France's Emmanuel Macron has said nothing is ruled out.
"I am proud that my country is one of the first to provide significant military aid to Ukraine," he told the BBC.
The Czech Republic was the first Western country to send tanks and infantry fighting vehicles - the Soviet-designed T72 and BMP1 - to Kiev, part of a series of heavy weapons deliveries said to have started as early as March 2022.
Almost a year later, after much suffering and soul-searching, countries including Great Britain, the United States and Germany have begun to respond to Kiev's repeated calls to send modern, Western-made tanks such as Leopard 2s, Challenger 2s and the M1 Abrams.
"Perhaps very few people could have imagined that Western countries would be willing to provide Ukraine with modern main battle tanks or long-range artillery or anti-aircraft systems," he continued.
He acknowledged Kiev's frustration with the speed of the deliveries, particularly the Western tanks, which were explicitly designed to blow holes - literally and figuratively - through Soviet armored formations.
Ukraina ka kërkuar 300 tanke të tilla dhe thotë se Perëndimi deri më tani ka premtuar se do të dërgojë të paktën 120. Por gjenerali Pavel tha se shpresonte që kjo të përshpejtohej - veçanërisht nëse Rusia nis ofensivën e saj të pritur pranverore.
Presidenti i zgjedhur e la mënjanë pikëpamjen - e mbajtur prej kohësh në disa kryeqytete evropiane, veçanërisht në Berlin - se dërgesa të tilla mund të shiheshin si "përshkallëzim".
Rusia ka paralajmëruar se rritja e furnizimeve me armë perëndimore do të bëjë që vendet e NATO-s të përfshihen gjithnjë e më shumë drejtpërdrejt në konflikt.
Presidenti i sapozgjedhur Pavel tha gjithashtu se ai dhe liderët e tjerë evropianë kishin për detyrë t'u shpjegonin popullatës së tyre skeptike - dhe në shumë raste të frikësuar - kuptimin e ndihmës së Ukrainës. Ai sheh një vend të qartë për Ukrainën në NATO.
"The Ukrainian army will probably be the most experienced army in Europe. Ukraine deserves to be part of a community of democratic countries," he added.